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Arizona Wildcats spring game: QB Jesse Scroggins makes surprise debut

Jesse Scroggins

Jesse Scroggins takes a snap at Saturday’s scrimmage. Photo courtesy of V. Valdez Photography.

Arizona Wildcats quarterback Jesse Scroggins came jogging off the field, already anticipating the wrath of coach Rich Rodriguez.

“He said, ‘Coach, I’m still learning, I’m still learning,’ before I had a chance to yell at him,” Rodriguez said after Arizona’s spring game Saturday.

Scroggins’ initial pass of the scrimmage was picked off by safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant — not the kind of first impression the quarterback was hoping for — but the news of the spring game was that Scroggins played at all.

The former USC Trojan had been very limited all spring after offseason toe surgery, but he had been lobbying the coaches to let him play, including bugging quarterbacks coach Rod Smith early in the scrimmage.

Smith took the matter to Rodriguez, who gave his approval.

So, Scroggins entered on the sixth possession of the scrimmage … and he excited one pass later after the interception by Bondurant.

“I said, ‘Wow, he broke on me.’ I really didn’t think he was going to buzz me that fast, but Tra’Mayne is a great defender,” Scroggins said.

“I said, ‘OK, this is my first live rep. Things are moving fast for me.’ I tried to adjust to it, and I felt a little bit more comfortable.”

Scroggins, who played at El Camino Junior College last season after two years at USC, directed several more possessions, finishing 6 of 17 for 44 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

There is plenty of rust to knock off — he just got out of a walking boot a couple of weeks ago and had been limited to some throwing in seven-on-seven drills — and he really hasn’t played much at all since being a star recruit out Lakewood (Calif.) High School in the 2010 recruiting class.

His appearance Saturday was a spring-ending twist to the quarterback competition, which will play itself out over many more episodes in the fall.

Senior B.J. Denker has a slight edge based on his year of experience in the offense and 15 spring practices under his belt. But Rodriguez is keeping all his options open. Scroggins and the rest of the field — which includes incoming true freshman Anu Solomon — can make up the gap in fall camp.

“I love it,” Denker said of the competition.

“I got a lot of work with the first team this spring and I feel really confident now. My spot isn’t locked in though, so I am going to train hard and try to earn the starting job.”

Scroggins, asked how much he was looking forward to the fall competition, responded, “All the way.”

Scroggins was inconsistent Saturday but showed flashes on a tight slant pass to redshirt freshman Jarrell Bennett and on a fade pass to Bennett for a touchdown.

“We hadn’t gotten to see him live,” said senior receiver Terrence Miller. “Personality wise, he has just as good of leadership qualities as anybody in the country. He’s a great guy to be around, great guy in the locker room and a great teammate. He has a lot of potential.”

Jesse Scroggins

Jesse Scroggins on his arm: ‘I can zing it.’ Photo courtesy of V. Valdez Photography

Scroggins (6-3, 210) is known as a pocket passer with decent athleticism and a huge arm.

“I can zing it,” he said. “I can definitely zing it.”

The toe injury had been a problem for at least a few years, and Rodriguez wanted Scroggins to get it fixed in the offseason rather than have it linger into the fall.

“I previously had a turf toe and my toe kept gradually moving over,” Scroggins said. “I never had the chance to really fix it. Coach Rod gave me the opportunity to fix it this spring, and I’m glad for it.”

Denker was 13 of 20 for 246 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception Saturday. Walk-on Jack Nykaza was 8 of 12 for 89 yards and two scores.

Redshirt freshman Javelle Allen was held out because of migraines. Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham has been banged up and missed the final two scrimmages of the spring.

And, so, the competition moves on to informal summer workouts before the team reconvenes for fall camp.

This opportunity is the main reason why Scroggins chose Arizona over other options out of junior college.

“Coach Rod, he told me, ‘I’m going to give you a fair shot and may the best man win,’” Scroggins said.

“And once he said that, I was ready.”

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